Posted on Mar 02, 2022
For our March 2 Zoom meeting, Club members Bob Meroney and Bob Lawrence told the story of Theodore Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss) and gave a reading from his “The Butter Battle” book (1981) as the base from which to discuss aspects of the cold war and its application to today. 
Meroney started with a brief history of Dr. Seuss.  Geisel (1904 -1991), best known today as the author of numerous children’s books (e.g., Green Eggs and Ham), who had a diverse career as a cartoonist (political and otherwise) and author of books for both children and adults (or, as he preferred to say, “obsolete children”).  His father owned a brewery and became the head of the local zoo, which undoubtedly led to Geisel’s interest in a wide range of “animals” in his career.  He started cartooning at an early age (including a drawing on the wall of his bedroom), and, while at Dartmouth College, drew cartoons for the Jack-O-Lantern (the college’s humorous magazine) and was its editor.  To circumvent punishment for being caught drinking on campus during prohibition, he started signing his cartoons “Seuss”. 
After graduation from Dartmouth, he enrolled at Oxford (UK), where he met his first wife, who convinced him to give up English studies and return to the US and concentrate on cartooning.  His first general success came as a cartoonist & writer for Judge magazine (a US magazine similar to Punch).  Although some of his cartoons (especially any featuring black face) would be considered politically incorrect today, one cartoon featuring a can of the insecticide Flit led to his creation of various advertising cartoons for Standard Oil (the manufacturer of Flit) and, ultimately, other companies.  Although his contract with Standard Oil forbade his publishing books, a loophole allowed him to create children’s books, including “And to Think that I Saw It on Mulberry Street”.  Although initially turned down by numerous publishers, eventually the Vanguard Press did publish the book, which became very successful and led to writing of four more books before WWII.  In 1939 he was hired by Random House to write whatever he chose. 
During the war, first as a civilian and then as a Captain in the Army, he contributed numerous cartoons and short films supporting the war effort and criticizing certain anti-war or disruptive actions like isolationism, the America First movement, and Nazism.  Two of his efforts looked at what to do with or for Germany and Japan in the years after the war. 
After the war, he returned to children’s books, most addressing various ethical issues.  He also focused on creating alternatives to the boring books of early-reading lessons, focusing on a simplified vocabulary and an engaging verse style.  He also wrote several books for “obsolete children”, including “The Butter Battle” book (1981), an anti-war book that featured a barrier wall, weapon escalation, and eventually mutually assured destruction.  This part of the presentation finished with a reading of the text from “The Butter Battle Book”. 
Lawrence launched from The Butter Battle to talk about the Action/Reaction Syndrome (Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense, 1960; the mad momentum associated with all of the nuclear weaponry) and the Escalation Ladder (Herman Khan of the Hudson Institute; equal and opposite reactions).  Kahn proposed an escalation ladder of 44 rungs ranging from an Ostensible Crisis (rung #1, Sub-crisis Maneuvering) through #9, Dramatic Military Confrontation (the last rung of Traditional Crises) and #15, Barely Nuclear War (drop a nuke in the open ocean to show that you are serious), to the potential of a Spasm or Insensate War (#44, the last rung of Civilian Central Wars).  The action/reaction syndrome ranged from the development of the B-52 strategic bomber countered by development of anti-aircraft missiles through the development of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers countered by development of carrier-killing missiles and the recent Russian hypersonic missiles countered by ongoing development of our own hypersonic missiles.  It’s like poker – I’ll see your raise and raise you 1.  The strategic competition for many years was between the US and the Soviet Union.  Now it’s between the US and Russia, on one hand, and China on the other.  Basically, all rational actors realize that a nuclear war can’t be won.  But is Putin, who just raised the alert level of his nuclear forces, a rational actor?  Lawrence was complimentary of Biden for not raising the alert level of US nuclear forces. 
Lower-level actors have, correctly, refused to launch nuclear strikes in the past.  Is that likely to continue?  Lawrence was more concerned about mistakes -- mechanical, electronic, or human.  He seemed most concerned that a non-rational actor might get control of nuclear weapon(s).  He suggested that Putin needs to find or be provided a logical and face-saving “off ramp”. 
Are there cyber scenarios that are equivalent to the nuclear issues?  Lawrence suggested that there are and that the escalation ladder there might have more rungs.  He also suggested that there could be escalation ladders associated with finance, oil, and perhaps other areas. 
Is there some relationship or lack of balance between military leadership and technical advance?  Lawrence quoted the back-channel communication between General Miley (Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff) and the leader of the Chinese military about the lack of nuclear danger from the outgoing President Trump.  He suggested that there might be a similar back-channel communication between the US military leadership and that of the Russian military. 
Might there be some danger from a professional standing army separated from the civilian population?  Lawrence suggested that a professional army would know what it is doing better than one dominated by civilians.  But is the Russian army professional? The goal of the military should be to prevent war. 
Is cyber war a means of declaring war on Russia?  Lawrence agrees that this is a new type of offensive weapon.  We hear about cyber attacks from other countries but little about our ability to go the other direction.  However, there are a lot of smart people in the US – don’t bet against the US. 
Is there any sort of qualitative difference between strategic and tactical nuclear weapons? If one side starts tactical nukes, the other side will respond, and it may lead to deployment of strategic nukes.  A rational actor realizes that if you start, you won’t gain anything. 
Should we have some sort of De-Escalation or Peace Escalation process – a Department of Peace?  An example would be to implement the thinking found in the theory of Gradual Reduction in Tension.  The other side of that is that a superior power may be able to get a belligerent power to back off. 
How can the UN be in the discussion?  Lavrov, the Russian representative, walked out of the discussion.  With the Russian veto, the UN may be relatively ineffective but World opinion is clearly against the Russian invasion. 
Should/will any NATO countries get involved?  As long as the conflict is restricted to Ukraine, NATO, including the US, won’t go, even to the extent of establishing a no-fly zone.  However, if the conflict spills over into a NATO country, NATO will respond. 
In the discussion in the UN General Assembly, some 141 countries voted against Russia, five voted for Russia, and 37 abstained.  Why abstain? Possibly afraid of Russia?  With such a large part of the world siding against Russia, Xi of China may re-think his options with respect to Taiwan.
Could Russia be removed from the Security Council?  To remove a country from the UN would require a resolution from the Security Council (which Russia would veto) followed by a 2/3 vote of the General Assembly. 
Putin has given NATO a new lease on life.  Is Ukraine worth that?  Lawrence suggested that Russia needs Ukraine to remain competitive economically.  However, could the economic fallout from the invasion bankrupt Russia just as the Soviet Union collapsed in partial response to Star Wars. 
Following the example of Costa Rica (no military and that money is spent on peace, education, and health), would it be possible to have capitalism for peace with a budget equivalent to the current defense budget?  Money for peace in Northern Ireland has been successful so far. 
Is the purpose of NATO to counter the Soviet Union and now Russia or is it to stabilize Europe?  It appears that the European Union has been more successful in stabilizing Europe than has NATO.